Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Luisotti's Brahms and Davies After Hours
The San Francisco Symphony inaugurated a new "party series" last Friday night on selected evenings called Davies After Hours.
It seems intended to bring in a younger, hipper crowd than the usual Symphony subscription audience, and there did seem to be more young adults than usual.
The concert itself was a mixed bag, with the new San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti (above) making his San Francisco Symphony debut as conductor. The first piece on the program was the Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly's 1933 "Dances of Galanta" which is packed with great Gypsy-inflected tunes weaved into a compact twenty minutes. It's one of my favorite pieces of music in the world, and the orchestra did a fine job with it, although the performance started off a bit sloppy with its offbeat rhythms.
This lively music was followed by Ernest Bloch's 1916 "Schelomo" for cello and orchestra, which sounded like the soundtrack for a bad Hollywood Biblical epic, except not as much fun. It could probably be redeemed by a great cello performance, but Michael Grebanier (above) wasn't that performer.
Anticipation was high for the Brahms Fourth Symphony because Luisotti's conducting appearances in Verdi and Puccini at the opera house in the last couple of years have been so extraordinary. Plus, Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson-Thomas just conducted this music last year during his Brahms Festival so this performance would allow for invidious comparisons between San Francisco's two top music directors.
The first movement of the symphony was fine on Friday night, but after that the wheels started coming off, and by the end of the performance the symphony was an overemphatic, wrongheaded, confusing mess. To say this was unexpected is a serious understatement, and I'm hoping the performance was a singular blip, but it did temper expectations for Luisotti's upcoming tenure at the opera house.
The Davies After Hours party was held in one section of the second tier lobby at Davies Hall and was unfortunately a victim of its own marketing success. About a thousand people showed up to a space that comfortably holds about one hundred people. The twin specters of claustrophobia and earthquake paranoia arose, and I left immediately, but for those who stuck it out, the Mark Growden Sextet supposedly put on a fun show. Let's hope symphony staff can work the bugs out for the next party.